Setting up a dog field is easy! If you know what you’re doing.
If you haven’t done it before, don’t know your market, and don’t have at least a basic grasp of how to run a customer-focused business, you can make some very expensive mistakes that can have an enormous effect on the success of your business – or worst case, close your field down altogether.
Here we are going to look at 5 of the most expensive and common mistakes people make when setting up a dog field. They are:
- Not gaining planning permission first
- Choosing the wrong fencing
- Underestimating the workload
- Not understanding reactive dogs and their needs
- Choosing the wrong land
Not Gaining Planning Permission First
An enormous number of dog field owners in the UK do not have planning permission for their operation. As the popularity of dog fields grows and Council Planning Officers become more aware of their existence, more enforcement orders are being issued. We have a full article on planning permission here (what you need to apply for and why).
The consequence of not applying at all, or pushing back and refusing to accept that you need a ‘change of use’ is that you may get shut down permanently. Ignorance is not considered a valid excuse, neither is the argument that dog fields are low impact and this is a stupid thing to have to apply for!
Applying retrospectively is doable in many cases but comes with several risks attached – here are a few of the most important:
- You might not be granted permission and have to go to appeal (or close)
- You might have to do extensive changes to your access, close your field during the process and lose considerable income
- You may have restricted hours enforced reducing your income potential
- You may have to do other remedial works at great cost
- If you have created a field in a sensitive area, disrupted protected wildlife or interfered with historic monuments or features, you may have to pay enormous fines and in some circumstances, face prosecution (with custodial sentencing in some cases)
A few reasons to apply for planning permission before you begin:
- Getting planning permission before you start building your dog field means you have the opportunity to change your design to suit the planning authorities where required, avoiding expensive remedial actions. The Planning Office represents and pulls together the departments that will be consulted (like highways and ecology) and have an influence on whether your application is accepted.
- You don’t give interested parties the opportunity to collect real life evidence of the impact of your field to argue it’s disruption. Whilst this evidence may be entirely invalid in terms of supporting any planning objections, it can add fuel to the fire where a field is not well received in the local community – or even by one disruptive individual.
- You may not even know you have a rare lesser spotted field seagull or a spiny-nosed swamp newt living in your field but do you really want to go to jail for disrupting it’s habitat? All joking aside, and we know this sounds dramatic, but the protection of wildlife is taken extremely seriously in the UK and as a custodian of a piece of land whether you own it or not, you are liable for your activity. The planning process, flags these concerns and in many cases, allows for the plans to be amended in order to meet everyone’s needs.
2) Choosing The Wrong Fencing
Speaking from experience – think carefully before committing to your fencing – this is arguably the most important individual element and expense (after the land cost buying land) of your dog field.
The type of fencing you choose will have an impact on your revenue. Go too low and you will limit the number of dogs that your field is ‘secure’ for. The same applies to the size of the holes in your fence (the deliberate ones!) – too big and you’ll exclude smaller breeds and puppies.
If you choose a tall and dominating fence type you may come up against planning objections – if you are applying retrospectively, this may mean you have to replace your fence entirely.
Choosing cheap materials can significantly shorten the lifespan of your fencing – you will have to replace it sooner, and spend more on maintenance year on year.
There’s lots more to fencing a dog field than you might imagine! If you want to read more about fencing options and choosing the right fence, check this article.
3) Underestimating The Workload
If like us you thought that most of the work involved with setting up a dog field is going to be done and dusted before you open, think again!
One of the biggest surprises to many people starting a dog field is that someone must be available to take calls and deal with emergencies throughout opening hours. Online bookings are also a 24 hour business and therefore you will have enquiries to deal with around the clock – technical difficulties booking, deleted confirmation emails, lost padlocks codes, rescheduling and cancellation queries – you name it, the emails will flow, day and night. There are ways to ease this burden, but someone has to do it.
Daily maintenance is also time-consuming – fence checks (MUST be done daily), emptying bins and scouring the field for rouge dog poop and broken toys – all important daily jobs!
4) Not Understanding Reactive Dogs And Their Needs
Having visited a huge number of dog fields all over the UK, I feel confident that I can tell if a field has been designed and set up by someone who understands what reactive dogs needs. It’s a huge mistake to unintentionally exclude these dogs because owners of these animals will make up the vast majority of your daily users – your best and most loyal customers.
Not all fields are suitable for reactive dogs and reactivity differs from dog to dog! We have one dog who will happily trot past a pony paddock with barely a glance, but can sniff a farmer or a rambler a mile away and will run up and down a fence for as long as the fence needs protecting from intrusion! Our other dog is perfectly sociable with farmers but considers cows to be things of terrifying nightmares following an unfortunate encounter when he was a pup. Reactivity means different things to different people and their dogs.
As a potential dog field owner, you should design your field to cater for as many dogs as possible – this is the most financially robust approach to setting up a dog field business. There are circumstances beyond your control but with long-term planning and investment, most of these things can be managed. There are circumstances when budget constraints limit for example the height of fencing you are able to invest in, but these are things that you should give thought to prior to making any commitments.
5) Choosing The Wrong Land
Gulp. This one is tricky. My heart sinks when I see an email with the subject:
“I bought this land – what do you think?”
Investing in land with the intention of building a dog field is infinitely more complicated than many people anticipate. If I look back to the first pieces of land we visited and consider how many bullets we’ve dodged over the years of land hunting – they are countless. Many would have been inappropriate or simply not got planning permission at all.
Suitable land is not easy to come by – after months of looking, you may find yourself starting to compromise on your wish list, or even worse, ignoring features that will make your field less desirable or simply unsuitable. Flooding in winter, shared access, local residents – all these things may be overcome but if you’re investing in land and a business that you hope to be very successful, you are better off continuing your search instead of handcuffing yourself before you begin.
If you are a farmer with 1000’s acres to choose from then you’re in a great position! These are my favourite projects – it’s like being a kid in a candy store! There is nothing I like more than visiting a farm with a few options when it comes to choosing where to position a dog field!
However, this is a rare luxury for most aspiring dog field owners who feel lucky to find anything suitable within budget. If you are looking to buy, we suggest you write a wish list, separating features into ‘non-negotiable’ and ‘nice to have’ features before you start looking – and stick to your guns.
If you are looking for land and want to talk through your ideas with us – or want guidance on what exactly you should be looking for, you can book an Initial Consultation through our online booking system. During a video or phone call (about 1.5 hours) we look into your specific circumstances, location, budget and the local competition to help guide you in the direction to find the best land for you, whether you’re planning to purchase or rent land for your dog field.
Click here to find out more about our consultation service or if you’re chomping at the bit, you can go straight to the booking site here and book a session on a date and at a time that suits you.
If you are the unicorn client – the land owner with acres to choose from and are committed to setting up your dog field/s you may find a site visit valuable – learn more about these here.
As you can see, there are a few pits to fall in when setting up a dog field – some may be obvious to you and some of these might have just saved you from a few pricy mistakes! I do hope so!